How Can Demetrious Johnson Become #1 Pound-For-Pound?
UFC champion Demetrious Johnson is one of the best fighters on the planet.
However, he’s not the best.
As much as UFC president Dana White and color commentator Joe Rogan say otherwise, “Mighty Mouse” Johnson is a long, long way from being the top pound-for-pound fighter on Earth—let alone in mixed martial arts.
But what’s it going to take to get him there?
Well, the good news is that Johnson’s doing exactly what he needs to do.
Since winning the UFC Flyweight Championship, he’s turned away all contenders—relevant “Top 15″ fighters, mind you—with even a knockout and a submission thrown in for added flavor. Johnson’s winning, and he’s doing it rather impressively.
But no matter how much Johnson wins, it’s only part of the battle.
If he’s going to ever be called the pound-for-pound “best” fighter in the sport, there’s a few things that need to happen first.
Demetrious Must Keep Winning
This one’s the no-brainer. The easiest way for any fighter to climb the rankings is to win, and Demetrious Johnson’s having little trouble doing that.
And no matter how small he may be, a long-enough winning streak will do wonders for Johnson in the end.
Just consider a few facts:
- Demetrious Johnson is in his athletic prime.
- He’s a spry 27 years old.
- Johnson’s fought at least three times a year since 2010.
- He’s also fought no less than twice a year in his entire 23-fight career.
This kind of busywork is the kind of schedule the UFC wishes every champion could have, and if Johnson can maintain anything close to his active pace, he’ll start breaking UFC records.
(Johnson’s already tied Frank Shamrock, Pat Miletich, and Chuck Liddell in consecutive title defenses.)
Flyweight or not, that “No. 1 pound-for-pound” talk will be a lot more convincing the longer Johnson defends his championship. He’s already done it four times in under 18 months. Just imagine what the Zuffa marketing team will say if he can do it another four times in another 18 months.
That brings us to our next point.
Jones, Aldo, and Velasquez Must Lose
According to the official UFC rankings (for what they’re worth), Johnson is the sport’s #4 pound-for-pound fighter. That position has only become more secure for him with Renan Barao’s recent loss, thanks to T.J. Dillashaw. But that’s also as high as he can go right now.
By nature of the rankings, Jon Jones, Jose Aldo, and Cain Velasquez must suffer the same fate as Barao—a huge upset against an underdog contender—to push D.J. a bit higher up the list.
Is that possible? Sure.
Heck, you could count on it.
Between Alexander Gustafsson, Daniel Cormier, Chad Mendes, and Fabricio Werdum, it’s fair to bet that at least one of them will knock off their respective division’s champion.
If that happens, Johnson will invariably see himself elevated above the losing champion—and there’s no excusable reason for anyone (except possibly Cormier) to get ranked above him in the aftermath.
Dropping the Weight Bias
Once again, one of the biggest things holding Johnson back is that he’s a 125-pound fighter. If he were a welterweight, or maybe even a lightweight, the casual MMA public would treat him with more respect. Also, flyweight is currently the UFC’s lightest division, at least until the female strawweights settle in.
But if Johnson keeps dominating, that bias will eventually drop.
Need proof? Just look at Ring Magazine‘s pound-for-pound list. Floyd Mayweather, the #1 fighter on the rankings, is a natural welterweight, while the next two spots are held by a middleweight (Andre Ward) and a heavyweight (Wladimir Klitschko), two fighters who arguably match or surpass his own skills.
Yet, despite belonging to a smaller weight class, Floyd has stayed well ahead of the pack by simply maintaining his impeccable winning streak against pretty solid competition—his natural charisma, salesmanship, and PPV clout regardless.
Demetrious Johnson can do the same thing, just by putting up a third of the title defenses Floyd’s got.
If he can do that much, and the UFC’s other champions falter, Mighty Mouse could be Number One with a Bullet—maybe then he’ll get some respect.
McKinley Noble is an MMA conspiracy theorist. His work has appeared in NVision, Bleacher Report, PC World, Macworld, GamePro, 1UP, MMA Mania and The L.A. Times. Follow him at @KenTheGreat1 on Twitter.
[Image Credit: UFC, ESPN]